These swim/bike/run events have nothing to do with swim-bike-run. (That’s a good thing.)

After a decade of running and triathlon, I was burned out in a big way. I loved endurance sports and all the ways it had changed my life, but at the moment, I didn’t really like endurance sports. The iron-distance no longer appealed to me, I was bored with marathons, and if I had to do one more 5K on the same course all the 5Ks followed in my city, I was going to scream.

But the problem wasn’t the races. The problem was me. After yet another lackluster race, I realized I had limited myself in a big way. I was checking boxes of what an endurance athlete “should” do, rather than doing the races I wanted to do. I had gotten so caught up in arbitrary goals, I had lost sight of the fact that running and triathlon are so much more than marathons and Ironmans.

I hit the reset button by committing to a year outside of my comfort zone, doing the races and events I had always seen as flippant and a waste of my time, because they weren’t so-called “real” races like marathons and Ironman. I ran up the Empire State Building and into the Grand Canyon, smuggled a suitcase full of running shoes into Cuba, and took 10th place at the National Championship of Nude Running. I came out of the year with a new book full of the craziest stories: Running Outside the Comfort Zone. But more importantly, I rekindled my love for endurance sports.

It’s good to get outside of your comfort zone once in a while. A new event – even a bizarre one—can serve as a prophylactic dose of joy, staving off burnout. You may also be surprised to discover you return to your “traditional” races fresher, stronger, and better than ever.

Get Outside Your Comfort Zone

Get High
Elevators are overrated. Take the stairs instead at a vertical running event. The sport, which involves running up tall man-made structures, like the Empire State Building or the Eiffel Tower, will bust your lungs (and probably your quads, too) in the best way.

Try:
The Dallas Vert Mile Dallas, Texas
Fight for Air Climb Series Nationwide
Big Climb Philly Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Skyrise Chicago Chicago, Illinois

Hit the Dirt – Er, Gravel
Gravel grinding has become the hottest new discipline in cycling, and for good reason. For roadies, gravel grinding straddles the line between familiarity and novelty—though it is “off road,” gravel routes are often wider than mountain-bike singletrack and not nearly as technical. (Bonus: No cars.)

Try:
Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder Sisters, Oregon
Muddy Onion Spring Classic Gravel Ride Montpelier, Vermont
Cheesehead Roubaix Newburg, Wisconsin
Middle Creek Gravel Grinder Newmanstown, Pennsylvania

Go Long (Really Long)
If you’ve ever wondered just how far you can go, now’s the time to find out. Extreme-distance swims, rides, and runs will help you rediscover your appreciation for your amazing body and what it can do.

Try:
Swim Around Key West Key West, Florida
Portland Bridge Swim Portland, Oregon
LoToJa Classic Bike Race Logan, Utah
Black Mountain Monster 6-, 12-, or 24-Hour Race Black Mountain, North Carolina

Or Go Short (Really Short)
Many endurance athletes emphasize the endurance part of our sport—we like our discomfort in the form of a long, slow, measured trickle. Which is precisely why we should enter short-and-fast races—sprinting works physical and mental muscles that can sometimes be neglected in our quest for building endurance. It hurts, but it works.

Try:
The Grand Blue Mile Des Moines, Iowa
US Masters Swimming Championship Races Nationwide
Monday Night PIR Bike Race Series Portland, Oregon

No Medals Allowed
Some of my favorite experiences in my year of Running Outside the Comfort Zone have no souvenirs. I got no medal, no t-shirt, and no race photo to post for Instagram likes. As it turned out, I didn’t need those things. What I really needed was a reminder of why I really love running – and it has nothing to do with a trinket I can hang on the wall.

Try:
Running the Rim-to-Rim of the Grand Canyon Grand Canyon, Arizona-Utah
Service Trips with One World Running Worldwide
Climbing Mount Lemmon Tucson, Arizona
Kona Coffee Boat Swim Kona, Hawaii

Let Your Freak Flag Fly
At the very least, give yourself permission to get weird once a year. In addition to shaking off the seriousness of training for an “A” race, fun runs and unorthodox events remind you of why we do this sport—because it’s hella fun.

Try:
Bay to Breakers Run San Francisco, California
Frozen Dead Guy Days Coffin Race Nederland, Colorado
Tour de Fat Nationwide
The Doughman Triathlon Durham, North Carolina